Cut-price Russia-bound jumbo jets for US presidential flight

Air force takes advantage of an unusual limited-time discount on planes once earmarked for Russian carrier

EVERETT, WA - FEBRUARY 8: The Boeing 747-8 freighter makes its first test flight February 8, 2009 at Paine Field in Everett, Washington. The 747-8 is the largest jumbo jet Boeing has built.   Stephen Brashear/Getty Images/AFP== FOR NEWSPAPERS, INTERNET, TELCOS & TELEVISION USE ONLY == *** Local Caption ***  807158-01-10.jpg *** Local Caption ***  807158-01-10.jpg
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The US air force reached a deal with Boeing for two 747 jets to serve as Air Force One, the US presidential flight, taking advantage of an unusual limited-time discount on planes once bound for Russia.

“We got a really good deal,” the air force secretary Heather Wilson said. “I’m pleased with that.”

The pact sets the stage for a modernised Air Force One programme after the US president Donald Trump criticised its cost, threatened to cancel the order and later boasted of negotiating with Boeing to reduce the expense. The U.S plane maker has had the jumbo jets in storage since they rolled off the assembly line in 2015 for Transaero Airlines, a Russian carrier that never signed for the jets before dissolving later that year.

The air force did not disclose the price for the two planes, saying it is “commercial-competition sensitive”.

“This award is a significant step towards ensuring an overall affordable programme," said Darlene Costello, the principal deputy assistant secretary of the air force for acquisition. "As we move forward, we will continue to seek and implement cost savings opportunities."

Congressional defence committees approved plans to shift US$195 million in previously approved defence funds for the current year to speed action on the planes, congressional aides said last week. Boeing offered favourable pricing if a contract was awarded by this month, according to a government funding request. The model carries a list price of $386.8m.

The air force announced in 2015 it would replace the current two Air Force One planes.

The new planes would still require extensive - and pricey - modifications to turn them into the flying fortresses that ferry US presidents around the world. The most recent air force estimate is that the Air Force One programme will cost $3.51 billion from the current fiscal year through fiscal 2022, mostly for research and development, according to the Bloomberg Government analyst Robert Levinson.

The air force expects the aircraft to have the range to fly between continents and provide work and sleeping quarters for the president and first family. They also have to be equipped with highly advanced, secure communications and classified defence capabilities.

The White House military office is working with the air force to define the aircraft’s requirements.

As president-elect, Mr Trump tweeted that the “costs are out of control” for the new planes and wrote, “Cancel order”.

* Bloomberg